Thursday, June 17, 2021

Campaigners tackle Swaziland absolute monarch on lack of media freedom

Media freedom in Swaziland (eSwatini) is getting worse and a regional campaign group is calling on absolute monarch King Mswati III to respect human rights.


The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) wrote to the King to express ‘concern at the deteriorating media freedom and freedom of expression environment’ in the kingdom.


It said that ‘media freedom violations are on the increase’ and there is a ‘lack’ of media rights.


MISA said, ‘harassment, intimidation and physical violence against journalists are all common and result in almost constant self-censorship’.


Zweli Martin Dlamini, the editor of the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, has been forced into exile in South Africa. Eugene Dube, editor of the Swati Newsweek website, has also been forced into exile in South Africa. 


‘Dlamini and Dube’s “crimes” have been to write articles deemed to be too critical of the King,’ MISA said.


King Mswati and the Swazi Government have filed high court papers in South Africa seeking to stop eSwatini publications from publishing stories on the King, his family and associates without their prior consent.


‘Such a lawsuit presents Eswatini and the King as intolerant to criticism and averse to being held to account,’ MISA said.


It added section 24 of the Swaziland Constitution promotes freedom of expression. MISA told the King, ‘But this right remains elusive for media workers in your country. In addition, the lawsuit filed in South Africa also flies in the face of this constitutionally guaranteed right.’


It called on the King to respect the principles of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which expressly calls on African governments to promote freedom of expression and of the media in their respective countries.


MISA said, ‘We urge the eSwatini authorities to demonstrate their commitment and adherence to constitutionally guaranteed rights by allowing the media to operate freely without any harassments, assaults, threats or reprisals for doing their work.’


It called on the King ‘to intervene in the cases against Dlamini and Dube and ensure that they are allowed back into the country to freely continue with their constitutionally guaranteed professional rights without hindrance’.


See also


Swaziland absolute monarch sets lawyers on critical online newspaper  


Swaziland journalist critical of King flees, hides in forest five days

Monday, June 14, 2021

Swaziland tightens coronavirus restrictions in fear of third wave

As Swaziland (eSwatini) faces months without adequate numbers of coronavirus vaccines, and with a third wave of the pandemic feared, Acting Swazi Prime Minister Themba Masuku announced further restrictions to everyday life.


He said in a statement that the daily number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases increased since the first week of June 2021, ‘and currently remains above 10 cases per day on average. This represents a more than doubling of COVID-19 cases that are being diagnosed since the beginning of June.’


He said on Friday (11 June 2021) Swaziland had recorded 82 new cases in the past week alone with three recorded deaths in the past three days. 


‘These numbers are a serious cause for concern particularly when we consider that from mid-March we were averaging five daily cases and had gone 18 days without any new recorded death. 


‘This is really concerning and provides a clear indication that a third wave of the pandemic is closer than we may think.’


He added, ‘As we began the month of June 2021, we have realised a 20 percent increase in new cases for two consecutive weeks and the increase in positivity rates for COVID-19 to 2 percent.


‘Although this increase may seem minimal, the numbers are a warning call for us to take swift action to prevent an uncontrollable increase in infections and minimise the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the population and the health system.’


Restrictions of one kind or another have been in place since March 2020, with relaxations and tightenings made over time.


Now, Masuku announced a raft of measures to take effect Monday 14 June 2021:


1. Religious gatherings:

Religious establishments will only be allowed to host one weekend daytime service, within a maximum of two and a half hours. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. 


2. Community meetings:

Indoors: Only a maximum of 50 people can attend and this should be held within two hours. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. 


Outdoors: A maximum of 100 people can attend and this should be held within two hours. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. 


3. Sports:

Only sporting codes categorised as low and middle risk will be allowed to operate as well as high level football such as Premier League, National First Division and National Teams. These activities will continue as per the guidelines previously outlined by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs. Only formal sections of these sporting codes are permitted and thus social and informal sport remains strictly prohibited. 


4. Alcohol:

Liquor outlets will be permitted to sell alcohol from Mondays to Thursdays, between 9am and 5pm. Alcohol remains strictly for home consumption only. 


5. Entertainment and Arts:

Entertainment and arts activities are allowed only in outdoor or open spaces with a maximum of 200 people in attendance with a duration of two and half hours and strict adherence to safety protocols.


6. Funeral and Memorial Services:

A maximum of 50 people can attend funeral services and they should be held within 2 hours. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. Memorial services, night vigils and Kufukama are strictly prohibited. 


7. Weddings/Kuteka:

A maximum of 50 people can attend. The activity should be held within a maximum of 2 hours. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. 


8. Shopping:

All shopping outlets will operate between 8am and 7pm. All other standard protective measures should be in place including 1.5m social distancing. 


9. Public Transport:

Public transport vehicles are allowed to carry 100 percent sitting capacity, no standing. Standard measures including the wearing of face masks and sanitising should be implemented at all times. 


10. Restaurants and food outlets:

Standard protective measures should be in place including social distancing of 1.5m. No alcohol should be sold or served after 7pm. 


11. Education:

Schools at all levels will remain open and will continue to implement the blended learning approach [online and in-person classes] where applicable. 


Swaziland received only 14,400 doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine this week when it needed 500,000 for the population of about 1.1 million people.


On distribution of the vaccines, Masuku said, ‘We will start with health workers who received the first dose and those who are yet to be vaccinated. We continue to source more vaccines in spite of the global challenges experienced in vaccine access and we request for patience among the public.’


See also


Swaziland runs out of coronavirus vaccines, only 35,000 people treated

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Swaziland absolute monarch bid to gag critical Swazi newspaper in S. African court

In an unprecedented move King Mswati III, the absolute ruler of Swaziland (eSwatini), and his government are taking a Swazi newspaper to court in South Africa to stop it publishing articles critical of the king.


They have filed at the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court an application to compel the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, and its editor Zweli Martin Dlamini, to give at least seven days’ notice before publishing any article which is ‘defamatory and or critical’ of the king and or the Government, Ministers or any member of the Swazi Royal Family.


The king also wants the editor to send any written story and or content to the Government official spokesperson and his deputy before publication and give them seven days to ‘read the whole story so they can comment accordingly’.


Avulekha Amazulu (Pty) Ltd, the company that provides the website is also included in the application.


The application is being opposed. 


Swaziland is not a democracy and press freedom is severely restricted. Comments critical of the king are not permitted and most media houses and journalists self-censor rather than face harassment and legal problems.


The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a pro-democracy group banned in Swaziland under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, said in a statement, ‘Since its registration in the Republic [of South Africa] the newspaper has flourished. Far away from the Royal censorship in the kingdom, it is able to publish eye opening stories of how the king and his family are abusing their political power. 


‘When they are not spending excessive amounts of the country’s meagre resources, they are illegally evicting poor sugar cane farmers from their only source of livelihood. These stories contradict the image of king Mswati as a “God king”. At best they portray him as an evil hearted greedy king not deserving of the reins of power. At worst he is the devil himself.’


The Swaziland News editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini, has been a constant thorn in the King’s side. In April 2020 he wrote and published reports that King Mswati had tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and had been taken to hospital with breathing problems. This was denied by the Palace at the time, but proved to be correct.


Dlamini had reportedly fled to neighbouring South Africa in March 2020 for the second time. He said he had been arrested and tortured by Swazi police who accused him of sedition.


Also, on 7 February 2020, The Swaziland News reported Dlamini was being harassed and receiving death threats from King Mswati’s first born daughter Princess Sikhanyiso, who is the Minister of Information Communication and Technology.


Dlamini had previously fled to South Africa in fear of his life in 2017. He had received death threats from a local businessman before his newspaper Swaziland Shopping was shut down by the Swazi government when the newspaper’s registration under the Books and Newspapers Act 1963 was declined by the Swazi Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology.


See also


Swaziland absolute monarch sets lawyers on critical online newspaper


Swaziland King in another press freedom row after website accuses him of business wrongdoing

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Swaziland asked for 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine, set to get 14,400

Swaziland (eSwatini) is due to receive its first coronavirus vaccines since March 2021, Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi, said on Tuesday (8 June 2021).


The Swazi Government had made similar promises about vaccine delivery in the past that were not fulfilled.


To date only about 35,000 doses have been administered in the kingdom which has a population of about 1.1 million people.


The Minister herself was among the first people in Swaziland – along with absolute monarch King Mswati III, the Royal Family and other Cabinet ministers – to receive a jab.


In a statement, Nkosi said the kingdom would receive 14,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX Facility, which is a global initiative to get coronavirus (COVID) vaccines to poorer countries.  It was due to arrive on Tuesday. Swaziland had asked for 500,000 doses.


To be effective a person needs to take two doses over a period of about 12 weeks. 


Nkosi said, ‘These doses will be used to provide second doses for all the healthcare workers who received their first doses.’


She added healthcare workers who did not get vaccinated first time would have a chance now.


She said, ‘The remaining doses will be prioritised for the members of the public that will have become due to receive their second doses whilst the Ministry continues to work on bringing 500,000 doses from AstraZeneca.’


See also


Swaziland fails to hit own deadline to get 500,000 coronavirus vaccines

Monday, May 31, 2021

Swaziland fails to hit own deadline to get 500,000 coronavirus vaccines

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government has missed its own deadline to get additional coronavirus vaccines into the kingdom.


So far only 35,000 doses have been distributed among the population of more than 1.1 million.


The Swazi Ministry of Health has repeatedly said over past weeks that 500,000 more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would arrive by the end of May 2021.


But the doses have not arrived. Health Minister Lizzie Nkosi said in a statement there would be a ‘slight delay’. No firm date was given.


She said, some new requirements have had to be incorporated into the agreement with AstraZeneca to access these vaccines.


There is now doubt whether those people who received jabs would get a second dose in time for it to be effective. There should be a 12 week delay between jabs. She said, ‘This, therefore, means that the next two weeks are critical in ensuring that we get doses into the country.’


In an update on the state of play with other coronavirus (COVID-19), she said, 


‘Pfizer: Our negotiations are at an advanced stage. We have received the head of terms which have undergone all legal reviews including the Attorney General’s Office and we are on the verge of signing. We are yet to receive a delivery date. Government funding will be utilised for purchasing of these doses.


Johnson & Johnson (J&J): Engagements with J&J, through the African Union, are ongoing and the earliest expected delivery is slated for August 2021. We will receive doses from the COVAX facility and will also utilise the funding we have from Government and the Republic of China (Taiwan) for purchasing of additional doses. 


Moderna: With financial support from the Kirsh Foundation, we continue with our negotiations with Moderna. We are waiting to hear next steps from them and if all goes well, delivery will be in Q3 and these vaccines will be prepaid by the Kirsh Foundation. 


‘COVAX facility: We have received updated correspondence this week on the delivery of the next batch of 14 400 doses. They are in the process of finalising the logistics of getting the vaccines in-country, which will confirm the exact delivery date. 


Sputnik V: Bilateral negotiations are ongoing with the Gamaleya Institute to secure doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine. As this vaccine has yet to receive approval, we continue to follow up with the WHO, SADC Regional Medicines Authority Harmonisation Initiative (ZAZIBONA) that we are part of and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) on approval of Sputnik V to enable its safe use in the country and in the region.’ 


See also

Total 86 health workers die from coronavirus at single Swaziland hospital


Swaziland runs out of coronavirus vaccines, only 35,000 people treated

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Five in court after Swaziland police-provoked protests turn violent

Five students appeared in court in Swaziland (eSwatini) following anti-police protests that turned violent.


Three were remanded to a maximum security prison and two were granted bail prior to a trail at the Swazi High Court.


They were arrested on Friday (21 May 2021) before a memorial service for Thabani Nkomonye, a 25-year-old law student. 


Nkomonye died in suspicious circumstances and there is widespread feeling in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch that he was killed by police.


The five arrested were Bongumenzi Gamedze, Hlengiwe Magagula, Khumbulani Nxumalo, Siphosethu Mavimbela and the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) Secretary General, Bafanabakhe Sacolo.


They were charged with various offences, including malicious damage and vandalism. The police post at Fairview was badly damaged.


According to local media reports police fired teargas and rubber bullets at the memorial service on Friday.


The Swazi Government had banned large gatherings, saying they broke restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus crisis.


Nombulelo Motsa, President of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland told Swati Newsweek, ‘We protested in Manzini City demanding justice for Thabani Nkomonye. However police dispersed us at Manzini. We left for the memorial at St Paul’s High School. The police followed us and dispersed us. They fired rubber bullets and teargas at the mourners.’


The Swaziland News reported, ‘Information gathered suggests that the protesters arrived at the police post armed with stones and vandalized the post, two officers allegedly tried in vain to stop them after firing shots in the air.’


The eSwatini Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported ‘dozens had to be rushed to hospitalafter police fired teargas canisters and gunshots at mourners’.


Reporting from the memorial service, the Observer said, ‘What at first started off as a peaceful service, with every other speaker commending how well behaved the youth was during the service, but until the police arrived, all hell broke loose. Seeing the police armoured vehicles making their way through the gate to the sports ground, there was shouting from a section amongst the attendees, demanding that the men in blue make a return as they were not welcome.


‘It seemed the police had one thing in mind – to hurt and make everyone cry. And that was achieved. Teargas canisters were directly shot where the masses were seated, as they bulldozed their way through the gate in their armoured paramilitary police vehicles. What followed was a stampede as mourners ran in all directions with teary eyes from the teargas.

‘The police were not fazed even by the wailing of elderly women and children, who had come to attend the memorial service. The elderly and the weak were trodden upon as a result of the stampede, while others collapsed as they suffocated from the teargas smoke. It was like a replay of the South African movie depicting the treatment suffered by black people during the apartheid regime.


‘The angry youth retaliated with stones. Cars that were parked by the entrance to the sports ground, from where the police were firing shots at first, were left damaged with windows shattered as the angry students fought back.


‘In a sheer act of force display, the police bulldozed their way into the stadium as they continued firing teargas canisters. At this point, some young women were already injured and crying hysterically and couldn’t breathe. The police gave chase as everyone escaped for dear life. The stadium was filled with white smoke, chairs and tables were left upside down. Seeing that their mission had been achieved, the police from the paramilitary wing, OSSU, withdrew and everyone was left worried sick about the injured and collapsed mourners.


‘The sounds of crying women echoed throughout the Fairview community, as others thought the collapsed had died. While people were being rushed in different cars to hospital, others came from corners and bushes, where they had sought refuge in search of water or any tap in sight from the nearby houses.’


See also

Swaziland P. M. tells police to halt public demonstrations as anger spreads following suspicious death

Monday, May 24, 2021

Swaziland media reporting of coronavirus was inadequate, UNESCO reports

Media reporting of the coronavirus pandemic in Swaziland (eSwatini) was inadequate, according to a new UNESCO report.


News concentrated on the statistics and mostly official Swazi Government sources were used in reports.


UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) studied nine countries in southern Africa, including Swaziland.


Overall, UNESCO reported ‘Most notably, reporting the pandemic has focused on the numbers. This was mostly motivated by statistics on infection rates, recoveries and deaths released by health authorities.’


It added, ‘The main gaps in professional reportage of the pandemic was in the low representation of women’s voices, citizen’s voices, young and elderly people and rural communities in news on Covid-19 in all countries. This meant that perspectives on Covid-19 were heard from men, official figures and urban communities. Other perspectives could however have enriched coverage, particularly understanding how different groups perceived the pandemic and its effects on their lives. This marginalisation of social groups meant that there was little inclusivity and diversity in overall reporting on the pandemic.’


In Swaziland, sixty percent of sources in news reports were men. Only 1 percent of stories were specifically from rural area.


The report said, ‘The media in the region rarely questioned or interrogated issues, numbers and claims they acquired from their sources in compiling Covid-19 articles. Some claims were presented as fact without the media putting disclaimers on such information.’


UNESCO researched news websites from 1 March to 31 August 2020.


See also

Total 86 health workers die from coronavirus at single Swaziland hospital

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Swaziland P. M. tells police to halt public demonstrations as anger spreads following suspicious death

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Acting Prime Minister has told police to halt mass demonstrations expected to protest the police’s action surrounding a suspicious death.


They were due to take place on Friday (21 May 2021) and follow protests on 17 May that ended in violence. Police shot an innocent bystander in the eye with a rubber bullet at point blank range.


Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku cited government rules around the present coronavirus pandemic that bans large gatherings.


In a statement he said, ‘We have asked the police to be vigilant and ensure there are no gatherings that will breach these regulations and expose emaSwati to the dangers of this uncompromising virus.’ 


Describing the 17 May protests, he said, ‘It is most concerning when a group of unruly people intentionally resort to violent confrontation towards the police and private citizens.’


He added, ‘In upholding the rule of law we implore the police to ensure that all perpetrators of this violence are brought to book to prevent any future incidences that will violate the rule of law and the rights of others.’


The protests are about the circumstances surrounding the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a 25-year-old law student. Police say he was the victim of a car accident on 8 May, but his body was not discovered until 13 May.


There is widespread suspicion in Swaziland that Nkomonye was killed by police.


In a statement the Swaziland Solidarity Network, a group campaigning for democracy in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, said. ‘Police brutality in the country is endemic. Throughout the years it has claimed many innocent lives. If taking to the streets will lead to a change in attitudes from those in power then Swazis should neither be intimidated nor blackmailed.’


Colani Maseko, President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), one of the groups organising the protests, said, ‘The youth must not listen to anything that will come from the Acting Prime Minister or anyone representing the King’s Government because they just want to disturb the protest and we can’t allow that.’


See also

Swaziland police shoot student in eye during protest unrest

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Swaziland police ‘assault man’ during protest against police harassment

Three police officers in Swaziland (eSwatini) were captured on video assaulting a man who was part of a protest against police harassment.


Police were caught on video slapping and kicking a protestor.


The video was widely circulated on social media.


It happened on Monday (10 May 2021) when bus conductors in Manzini protested after police previously arrested some of them for allegedly illegally operating their buses (known locally as kombis) at Mhlaleni. Police have been issuing court summons, although it is argued they do not have authority to do this.


According to local reports the protestors threw stones at police who then retaliated.


The Swaziland News reported police ‘had to run for their dear lives’.


Swati Newsweek reported an eyewitness saying, ‘The transport operators threw stones on the road. Police had to flee. The area became like a war zone.’


In the video the police officers are seen insulting, slapping and kicking a man.


 See also


Swaziland police ‘inflict torture’ on suspects: U.S. Govt. human rights report


Swaziland police halt democracy march, ‘torture’ leader